Antw: Re: O-only agreement - Sign languages

Greville Corbett g.corbett at SURREY.AC.UK
Mon Sep 21 16:37:45 UTC 2009

FP writes: Snow scenario 2 is reminiscent of "percolation".
Agreed. And that’s part of the original point of the analogy. Things can be
the same for the same outside reason (in other words, both are explained by
something else, not one by the other).  “Agreement in gender, number and
case” slips off the tongue by habit, but typically covers rather different
things. Agreement in gender and number often really is agreement; agreement
in case rarely is. It’s most often government  - as you say, case assigned
to an NP or DP in its entirety. The parts then are in the same case, because
they have been dumped on from outside. The argument then becomes a matter of
whether you think of syntax in terms of constituency or dependency.

Of course, many would deal with all this in terms of feature satisfaction,
treating agreement and government as one phenomenon. But since the
discussion was specifically about agreement, I though it worth specifying
just agreement. 

Greville Corbett

On 21/09/2009 15:39, "plank" <Frans.Plank at> wrote:

> Snow scenario 2 is reminiscent of "percolation".
> For instance, case, assigned to an NP or DP in its entirety (unlike e.g. a
> gender, inherent in a noun and spread from there to other NP/DP constituents),
> has been assumed to be spread by percolation, coming from above and trickling
> (well, snowing) down onto every susceptible constituent within the domain
> concerned, unless blocked by something in its downward path.
> Is percolation agreement?
> Frans Plank 
> On Sep 21, 2009, at 10:04 AM, Greville Corbett wrote:
>>  Consider this analogy. Imagine two houses in a street, both white. We ask
>> why:
>>> Scenario 1: Mrs White, in number 10, paints her house white, and Mrs Green,
>>> in number 12, likes the look of it and paints hers white too. That’s the
>>> analogy of agreement (street-internal if you like).
>>>  Scenario 2: it snows on both houses. That’s not agreement – they are white
>>> from the same outside cause.
>> From what I’ve  read, and from several discussions with people who work on
>> sign languages, I think the situation in sign languages is more like scenario
>> 2, than 1. So I’ve have agreed with those, including in earlier postings,
>> who say that as yet we have no evidence for agreement in sign languages
>> (Corbett, Agreement CUP 2006, pages 264, also 19-20).
>>  Greville Corbett
>>  Surrey Morphology Group
>>  On 21/09/2009 08:40, "Franz Dotter" <Franz.Dotter at UNI-KLU.AC.AT> wrote:
>>>  Dear colleagues,
>>>  I am rather sad about the fact that the "language units have to be
>>> arbitrary"-stereotype gets revived in morphology now. That goes together
>>> with the fashion of the use of "blending" (following Liddells publications):
>>> If one finds an item which has some existence outside language (as, e.g.
>>> location), then they argue that we have "blending of language and
>>> non-language". 
>>>  I take a cognitive perspective which says that language is "a phenomenon of
>>> the whole body" and only asks whether there is "some coding for some
>>> meaning" (keeping the axiom that cognitive/meaning items can be a basic
>>> standard of comparison of languages). Under this respect it is more adequate
>>> for me to interprete what some people call "blending", is the human
>>> procedure to exploit the non-language area for items which can be used as
>>> languae units. 
>>>  From that standpoint it is also clear that sign languages can transport
>>> what linguists call 'roles', especially by using location or sign movement
>>> direction. For me it is not adequate (neither for spoken nor for signed
>>> languages) to hypothesize that any language utterance may systematically
>>> consist of sequences like: "language unit(s) - non-language unit(s) -
>>> language unit(s) - non-language unit(s) - …".
>>>  In other words: From a phenomenological view, we have "coding for roles" in
>>> sign languages. Which formal status these coding may have (e.g. whether they
>>> can be derived from other language phenomena in a certain model by certain
>>> means), is a secondary question, interesting for anthropology, cognition,
>>> psychology, linguistics, etc. That you can find a model which exactly
>>> describes the "language unit(s)-non-language unit(s)"-sequences as
>>> underlying normal utterances (= communication in natural language), is no
>>> argument that there is any relation to "reality" behind such a model
>>> assumption.
>>>  There is no scientific possibility "to show" = to prove (as Sonja
>>> Erlenkamp) writes " there is nothing  of a linguistic structure that the
>>> verb and the noun phrases actually share". Neither you can show (as Dan
>>> Slobin writes) that "there is no formal motivation to label any of these
>>> participants in the syntactic terms of grammatical relations, grammatical
>>> cases". You can only make that rationally valid in a special model of
>>> language with special axioms. We all have learned that terms like subject,
>>> direct object, indirect object, nominative, accusative, dative or ergative,
>>> absolutive, oblique etc. are model dependent and are not definable uniquely
>>> for all languages.
>>>  From the standard of comparison, meaning, I would hold the assumption that
>>> sign languages do show (= can code) semantic roles.
>>>  As you may notice, I separate "language" and "linguistic" in order to
>>> separate the object area (= language as a phenomenon) from the model area (=
>>> linguistic models about the functioning of language). (In brackets: No
>>> speaker or signer has ever used a "linguistic unit"; they only use "language
>>> units") From that perspective, the phenomenon "location" or "movement
>>> direction", are language units (following my axiom that a language utterance
>>> consists of coding elements used for language in this moment). Which
>>> different forms of status they can get in different linguistic models,
>>> depends on the model, not on the language.
>>>  Sonja Erlenkamp and Dan Slobin talk about their linguistic models. They
>>> should not mix up them with language or "reality" (e.g. by saying: "the
>>> language phenomenon X IS a subject or an agreement").
>>>  Best Regards
>>>  Franz Dotter
>>>  University of Klagenfurt
>>>  Center for Sign Language and Deaf Communication
>>>  Funded by: Provincial government of Carinthia, Bundessozialamt Kaernten,
>>> European Social Fund
>>>  Head: Franz Dotter (hearing)
>>>  Collaborators: Elisabeth Bergmeister (deaf), Silke Bornholdt (deaf),
>>> Jennifer Dörrschuck (hearing), Katja Hablich (hearing), Christian Hausch
>>> (deaf), Marlene Hilzensauer (hearing), Petra Käfer (hearing), Klaudia
>>> Krammer (hearing), Christine Kulterer (hearing), Andrea Lackner (hearing),
>>> Anita Pirker (deaf), Andrea Skant (hearing), Nathalie Slavicek (hard of
>>> hearing), Natalie Unterberger (deaf)
>>>  Homepage:
>>>  Deaf server (in German):
>>>  Fax: ++43 (0)463 2700 2899
>>>  Phone: ++43 (0)463 2700 /2821 (Franz Dotter), /2822 (Andrea Skant), /2823
>>> (Marlene Hilzensauer), /2824 (Klaudia Krammer), /2829 (Christine Kulterer)
>>>  Email addresses: firstname.lastname at
>>>>>>  >>> "Dan I. Slobin" <slobin at BERKELEY.EDU> 9/20/2009 8:29 >>>
>>>  I agree entirely with Sonja Erlenkamp's response, on the basis of
>>> linguistic work on several sign languages.  The directionality of a sign
>>> (often along with gaze direction) encodes the relationship between the
>>> participants, whose identity has already been established by various means.
>>> There is no formal motivation to label any of these participants in the
>>> syntactic terms of grammatical relations (subject, direct object, indirect
>>> object), grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, dative or ergative,
>>> absolutive, oblique), or semantic roles (agent, patient, recipient).  All of
>>> the necessary information for clause interpretation is present in the
>>> meanings of spatial locations, handshapes, and motion; and the
>>> interpretation itself does not seem to need anything but some set of
>>> semantic roles.  It follows that there is no such thing as “grammatical
>>> agreement” in these languages.
>>>  I am presently working on a paper on sign languages and typology, in which
>>> I suggest that sign languages constitute a possibly unique linguistic type,
>>> with no alignment pattern at all.  This is because there are no arbitrary
>>> grammatical categories to align with formal markers­-no
>>> nominative/accusative or ergative/absolutive or active/stative or
>>> agent/patient, and no relevant formal markers.  In fact, alignment may be a
>>> peculiarity of the auditory modality, and not a necessary linguistic
>>> universal.  
>>>  Dan Slobin
>>>  Psychology & Linguistics
>>>  University of California, Berkeley
>>>  At 08:18 AM 9/20/2009, Sonja Erlenkamp wrote:
>>>> Well, I have to say, I don't agree with Ulrike on agreement (no pun
>>>> intended). Most signed languages do - as far as I can tell - show no
>>>> agreement patterns at all. There are constructions which are called
>>>> "agreement" verbs by some researchers, but as for example Scott Liddell has
>>>> shown for ASL (American Sign Language) in several of his publications from
>>>> 1998 to this day, these constructions are not agreement patterns, since
>>>> there is nothing  of a linguistic structure that the verb and the noun
>>>> phrases actually share. They both make use of spatial locations to create
>>>> reference to participants, but spatial locations are not morphemes in
>>>> themselves. Signs can be placed at spatial locations, as well as verbs
>>>> directed to, but space in itself cannot be a morpheme.  There are several
>>>> other reasons why the application of the term "agreement" on this
>>>> construction is misleading, but I won't go into detail on that one here.
>>>> The number of researchers who agree with Liddell on this issue for
>>>> different signed languages has been increasing since he started the debate.
>>>>  My own research on Norwegian Sign Languages (and German Sign Language),
>>>> shows that these two signed languages do use different markings of
>>>> grammatical relations in different construction types withou any clear S/A
>>>> or S/O correspondence. The directionality you mention (where movements are
>>>> directed in space to mark relations between participants by means of
>>>> prompting mental connections between spatial locations and referents) is
>>>> only one type of construction, which is not even very frequent in signed
>>>> language utterances due to the fact that the verbs involved are often
>>>> ditransitive verbs. It seems as if this verb class consists mostly of verbs
>>>> conceptualizing some kind of either concrete or metaphorical transfer,
>>>> where the movement direction resembles the path of the transfer. In fact
>>>> the directional movement in these verbs moves from the location related to
>>>> the A towards the location related to the indirect "object", not the O. I
>>>> have never seen a directional verb in the signed languages I have looked at
>>>> that had a movement towards the O exclusively, but there are some verbs
>>>> that can only be moved away from the spatial location related to the A,
>>>> something which often involves another construction: surrogate blends. I
>>>> wouldn't call that agreement though.
>>>>  All the best
>>>>  Sonja
>>>>  Prof. Sonja Erlenkamp
>>>>  University College of Sør-Trøndelag
>>>>  Department of teacher - and sign language education
>>>>  2004 Trondheim
>>>>  Norway
>>>>>  > Date: Sun, 20 Sep 2009 10:23:57 +0100
>>>>>  > From: uzeshan at UCLAN.AC.UK
>>>>>  > Subject: Re: O-only agreement
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > Hi, though this is only partially what you are looking for, the
>>>>> majority of sign languages have the following agreement patterns:
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > - no agreement with intransitive S
>>>>>  > - agreement with both A and O for some transitive verbs
>>>>>  > - agreement with O only for some other transitive verbs
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > Interestingly, agreement with A only in transitive verbs does not
>>>>> occur.
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > Verb agreement with transitive verbs is also known as "directionality"
>>>>> in sign linguistics (due to the agreement being shown by the direction of
>>>>> the hand movement during production of the verb).
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > Ulrike
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > Prof. Ulrike Zeshan
>>>>>  > Director, International Centre for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies
>>>>>  > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
>>>>>  > Livesey House, LH212
>>>>>  > University of Central Lancashire
>>>>>  > Preston PR12HE, UK
>>>>>  > uzeshan at
>>>>>  > Ph. +44-1772-893104
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>>>>  > >>> peterarkadiev <peterarkadiev at YANDEX.RU> 19/09/09 2:51 PM >>>
>>>>>  > Dear typologists,
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > while Paul Hopper has come up with an example of A-only agreement in
>>>>> Malay (see references below), I ask a follow-up question concerning the
>>>>> mirror-image situation: are there any languages where the verb would agree
>>>>> exclusively with the transitive O (patient, undergoer, direct object), but
>>>>> neither with the transitive A nor with the intransitive S?
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > Many thanks and best wishes,
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > Peter Arkadiev
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > Paul J. Hopper, 1987 Stability and change in VN/NV Alternating
>>>>> Languages:
>>>>>  > A study in pragmatics and linguistic typology. In M. Bertuccelli Papi
>>>>> and
>>>>>  > J.Verscheuren, eds., The Pragmatic Perspective, 455-476. Amsterdam:
>>>>> John
>>>>>  > Benjamins.
>>>>>  > 
>>>>>  > Paul J. Hopper, 1983 Ergative, passive, and active in Malay narrative
>>>>>  > discourse. In F. Klein-Andreu, ed., Discourse Perspectives on Syntax,
>>>>>  > 64-87. New York: Academic Press.
>>>> Share your memories online with anyone you want anyone you want.
>>>> <
>>>> are.aspx?tab=1>
>>>>>>>>>>>>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>  Dan I. Slobin
>>>  Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Linguistics
>>>  Department of Psychology           email: slobin at
>>>  3210 Tolman #1650                    phone (Dept):  1-510-642-5292
>>>  University of California                phone (home): 1-510-848-1769
>>>  Berkeley, CA 94720-1650, USA   fax: 1-510-642-5293
>>>   <>
>>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>  -- 
>>  Greville G. Corbett
>>  Surrey Morphology Group
>>  English (J1) 
>>  Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences
>>  University of Surrey
>>  Guildford                                   email: g.corbett at
>>  Surrey, GU2 7XH
>>  Great Britain                               phone:  +44 1483 682849
>>            fax:  +44 1483 686231

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list